Justice subpoenas Merck on drug marketing

Merck ($MRK) has been subpoenaed for information about the marketing of several of its drugs, the company disclosed in a securities filing. The Justice Department has asked for information on promotions for the heart drug Integrilin and the antibiotic Avelox from January 2003 to June 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal. The two drugs came to Merck with the 2009 acquisition of Schering-Plough.

Meanwhile, Justice Department investigators have also asked for information from Inspire Pharmaceuticals, which Merck bought in May, as part of a false-claims investigation into off-label uses of the drug AzaSite, which is FDA-approved to treat bacterial conjunctivitis.

The new government probes join a subpoena issued earlier this year as part of a criminal investigation into the marketing of the ex-Schering drug Temodar, a brain cancer treatment. Plus, Merck has been working on settling a government probe into the marketing of its now-withdrawn painkiller Vioxx. The company set aside $950 million to cover that settlement, but an agreement hasn't been finalized.

Off-label marketing probes have been a dime a dozen in Big Pharma over the last several years, with company after company announcing settlements of several hundred million to several billion. GlaxoSmithKline was the most recent company to announce a potential settlement: $3 billion, which would cover not only off-label marketing probes but other investigations as well.

- read the WSJ piece